Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday sloughed off the two latest blows to Chicago’s civic ego – Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin’s wisecrack about mobster Al Capone and the Rosie O’Donnell Show’s possible move to New York.
O’Donnell’s move would be, by far, the bigger blow. It threatens to turn the Harpo Studios complex that talk show diva Oprah Winfrey built and made famous into a ghost town. That could have a deleterious ripple effect on the Near West Side, just as Oprah’s presence there helped rebuild the neighborhood.
Although Rosie’s return to her hometown is not official yet, Emanuel talked about it Thursday as if the move were a fait accompli.
He was standing next to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose gain is Chicago’s loss. They were together for an international conference on sustainability.
“While I’m disappointed [about] Rosie moving to New York – Mayor Bloomberg’s success for New York, in that sense – for Chicago, we have an investment on the West Side as it relates to, both health care and, what I would call culture. There’s dance companies based there,” said Emanuel, a former ballet dancer.
Pressed about the future of the Harpo Studios complex, the mayor said, “I don’t have the immediate plan for you yet. But we’re working on an overall [plan] for the West Side as it relates to entertainment and cultural development.”
As for Putin, his put-down was delivered after reporters in Moscow asked whether he was planning to come to Chicago for the NATO summit May 20-21.
“Yes, they say [Chicago is] good. Al Capone lived there,” Putin said, perpetuating a stereotype that Chicago has tried for decades to live down.
The mayor responded by accentuating the positives about Chicago.
“I’m not gonna deal with President-elect Putin’s comments [and] the slight as it relates to Chicago. That’s his comment. I know what Chicago is. I know what the city is. And the reason you’re having this conference here is because Chicago is a city that’s on the move, looking to the future, not running away from its challenges, but shaping ’em,” the mayor said.
Referring to Putin, Emanuel said, “When he sees Chicago, he’ll see the city I know with people, not only of big shoulders, big hearts, [but] big dreams. And we don’t just dream big, we do big things. That is the city of Chicago.”